Thursday, April 2, 2020

Cheating in romance. Is it okay or not?

Menage threesome

I'm in a particular book group where cheating in romance seems to be a hot topic or a trigger for most people in it. Every time someone recommends a book, you can bet your bottom dollar the first question asked is "is there cheating?" I saw so much of it that it made me curious about the topic and how it is viewed in a romance novel.

Let me start by saying that cheating in real life is not okay and I do not condone it. Cheating has some far-reaching consequences on the lives of those directly impacted and their surrounding friends and family. There is always fallout regardless of how mild or severe it is. That said, cheating is a very grey area in real life. There are so many reasons for cheating that I do not feel like it's something I can comment on because I do not know the circumstances of people's lives and what drives them to do such a thing. What happens in the aftermath is different for everyone as is the initial reason for the act.

Cheating groveling

Love cheating angst

In romance novels, however, it's often a plot device to create tension and drama. A lot of people love it because they relish in the heightened emotions, the angst and the conflict. Then there are people who hate it because they feel that cheating has no place in a romance, or they have been impacted by cheating in real life and reading about such an act is a negative trigger for them that brings emotional distress and anxiety. Not something anyone would want to experience when supposedly reading something they are meant to enjoy and provide an escape from mundane life.

I have never read a book with cheating in it or that I considered had cheating in it. Perhaps I got lucky, and perhaps I'm selective with what I read. The closest I've come are two books by a favorite author of mine, Lily Harlem. They are both menage stories.

The Glass Knot by Lily Harlem The Silk Tie by Lily Harlem

In one, a happily married gay couple is vacationing on a beach resort. One of the men has the desire to explore what it feels like to have sex with a woman and his husband gives him permission to have a one night fling. After the fling, the man and woman reconnect back in their everyday lives and there's a second encounter. One could say the second encounter was technically cheating but I didn't feel that way about it. Eventually, these three do end up in a menage relationship.

On the other, this time it's a happily married husband and wife. The husband becomes attracted to another man and with his wife's permission, all three of them visit the man's weekend estate. In this instance, the husband doesn't do anything without his wife present and is adamant that she share in the experience though voyeuristically. Again, eventually, the attraction extends to the wife and the other man as well, and they also end up in a menage relationship.

I think in both these cases, what made it okay for me what the permission granted and the presence of the other partner in the mix. There's no hiding, there's no going behind one person's back, and there are no secrets. Everything is out in the open, and it's more like they are exploring an open marriage then moving onto a committed threesome as opposed to someone finding out after the fact and getting hurt.

Menage MMF

However, there are romances where cheating is a dominant theme in the story and it is clear there is cheating. I think these are the books that a lot of romance readers object to and I think the majority shy away from. In my research, the people who enjoy reading about cheating are in the minority.

In romances, there are two kinds of cheating. Cheating ON the hero or heroine. Cheating WITH the hero or heroine. In both instances, it's definitely cheating. The main thrust of the story is how the author redeems the cheater and in what context the cheating takes place in. I'm not saying any of it makes the cheating okay, but certainly, for the author to reach the happy ever after of the main couple, the reader needs to feel that the cheater has redeemed him or herself and that despite to the cheating you are rooting for them as a couple.

Menage MFF


When it comes to a romance novel where there is cheating ON the hero or heroine, it's usually because the cheater feels like their connection with the hero or heroine is not deep enough or strong enough. There might be an element of payback for a perceived slight or an intentional act to create jealousy. Quite often too, in this instance, there is the perception of cheating because the cheating might not necessarily have taken place and this perception causes conflict between the couple which later needs to be resolved for them to have their happy ending. Redemption is key in this situation. The cheater needs to grovel sufficiently and his or her reasons for cheating need to be justified in a way that is palatable.

For example, in Sparrow by LJ Shen, Troy cheats on Sparrow. After the act, Troy is truly repentant and changes to be a better man. Sparrow makes him want to be a better man, and he becomes utterly devoted to her. Troy's transformation helps the reader forgive him and rejoice in Sparrow and Troy's happy ever after.

Sparrow by LJ Shen

What about when there is cheating WITH the hero or heroine? How does that work? Usually, this means they are either married or have an existing girlfriend or boyfriend whom they are obligated to be with either through an arranged relationship or marriage, or they have been manipulated into a relationship they do not want to be in, and their heart is with the hero and heroine. With this, usually, the person being cheated on is painted in a negative light and because that person is so horrible, the reader is rooting for the hero and heroine to end up together because their love is brighter, purer, and they are more deserving of each other. They are meant to be.

For example, in the Off Balance series by Lucia Franco (yes, I realise this is a controversial series), Kova cheats on Katya with Ria. In the books, Katya is painted as a taker. She's greedy, manipulative, and she have a very minor presence in the book even though she is Kova's girlfriend and later, he marries her. He is manipulated into the marriage when his heart has always belonged to Ria. How does this make cheating with Ria okay? The reader goes through the relationship journey with Kova and Ria, their struggles, their feelings, their desire to be together though circumstances keep them apart. As a reader, the author has you rooting for them to be together because they are meant to be. The girlfriend or the wife is merely a momentary roadblock on their way to happiness.

Balance by Lucia Franco Execution by Lucia Franco Release by Lucia Franco Twist by Lucia Franco


Do I have a point I'm trying to make when it comes to cheating in romance novels? Only that it exists and redemption is key to a believable happy ending given the circumstances. Context to the cheating is everything, and it's in that context that the act is forgivable for the reader. It's certainly not for everyone what with all the responses I got when I asked the question in the book group.

Personally, I try to avoid it. If I see a book that interests me and people who have read it say there's cheating in it, or even other woman or other man drama, I tend to avoid the book because that's not the kind of conflict I enjoy reading. But that's just me.

Sexy undressing couple

What about you? Have you ever read a romance with cheating in it? Are you okay with it, or do you instantly DNF the book when you discover it has cheating in it? What are your views on the topic? And do you have any books on the topic to recommend?

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  1. Hi Deanna. No I cant remember reading a romance that involved cheating. If so, it was long ago, back in the dark ages of early mills and boon. Lol. I've read mystery/thrillers that did, but they're not romances.
    I read poly and menagerie romances, but of course they are consensual so dont count as cheating. Although maybe some may prefer not to read it.
    Take care

    1. Menagerie romances? Oops. I mean mènage . Lol, I've certainly never read that. Teach me to proof read my posts

    2. Gill, I'm the same. I love RH and menage and that's not cheating to me because everyone is consensual and willing to share.

    3. Oh, ha ha. Yes, not a menagerie. That's a whole different kind of kink. :-p

  2. So not okay for me, Deanna. I hate cheaters and don't think they are heroic, for both hero and heroine. Not into menage, either. Cheers.

    1. I'm not into reading about cheating either but it floats the boat for some people. To each their own.